Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Cats

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Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a condition in cats where a piece of cartilage breaks off the end of a bone and becomes lodged in the joint.

  • OCD is extremely rare in cats, so information about presentation, diagnosis, and treatment is based on data about dogs
  • OCD presents most commonly in animals less than a year of age as lameness in the affected limb, swelling around the joint, increased lameness after physical activity, and pain
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, diagnostic imaging, and visualization of the joint using a surgical scope
  • Treatment varies depending on severity and affected limb but includes surgery, pain medication, rehabilitation, and dietary modification
  • Prognosis for OCD is guarded and is generally considered a lifelong condition
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Is Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Cats common?

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in cats is extremely rare. There are only a handful of reported cases, and the majority of information currently available is in relation to its appearance in dogs.

OCD is a developmental disease affecting growing bones of animals under one year of age.

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Risk factors

Symptoms vary depending on the length of time the cartilage defect has been present. Chronic OCD can lead to arthritis and inability to use the affected limb.

Given that this is a very rare condition in cats, risk factors are unknown. In dogs, some risk factors include injury, excessive vitamin D and calcium in diet, lack of blood flow, hormonal issues, and a predisposition in larger breeds.

Possible causes

Osteochondritis dissecans is caused by a developmental defect in the cartilage at the end of a growing bone. The resulting crack or flap in the cartilage irritates the joint and leads to pain and arthritis.

Main symptoms

OCD symptoms typically develop in a young, growing animal with no known history of an injury.

Testing and diagnosis

After a physical examination and medical history, a number of tests can be done to determine if OCD is present, including;

  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Arthroscopy: surgically inserting a camera in the affected joint to visualize any abnormalities

Steps to Recovery

If OCD is confirmed, treatment can vary depending on severity but may include surgical correction or conservative management.

Conservative management strategies include

  • Pain medications
  • Limiting physical activity
  • Dietary adjustments
  • Rehabilitation therapy

OCD is so rare in cats that little is known about the prognosis. Some cartilage defects are small and heal on their own, but OCD can be a lifelong condition and may lead to development of osteoarthritis later in life. In cases of OCD in the shoulder joint, recovery appears to be more likely. With early intervention, prognosis is more favorable overall but is generally still guarded.


As the cause in cats is generally unknown, prevention is not currently possible. Reduction in likelihood of onset can include monitoring limb health, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding injury where possible. Osteochondritis dissecans is not contagious.

Is Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Cats common?

Osteochondritis dissecans is extremely rare in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Surgery
  • Pain medications
  • Limiting physical activity
  • Dietary adjustments
  • Rehabilitation therapy


Rebecca A. Schwarze, Cheryl A. Tano, and Vincent W. Carroll - Writing for The Canadian Veterinary Journal
PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD
David L. Dycus, DVM, MS, CCRP, DACVS-SA - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Joseph Harari , MS, DVM, DACVS - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS - Writing for dvm360®

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